So, I found out a few weeks ago that my husband and I are expecting our first little human child (I say "human" child because we refer to our dogs as children, c'mon, I know some of you can relate! :) ). To my surprise, there have been a startling amount of friends and family asking, "But are your dogs good with babies?". My answer, "They will be! With lots of conditioning and training, my dogs will be the best born-in babysitters a mom has ever owned!".
But how, you might may be thinking? Easy, it's called conditioning -- exposing your dog to an unfamiliar stimulus and creating a positive association with said stimulus through treats, play, and positive reinforcement. But how do you expose your dogs to a baby, before you have a baby, you may ask? Easy! There's lot of different ways, ask a friend with a baby to come over, preferably a friend who isn't afraid of your dogs! Have lots of treats and distractions ready to lure your dog into a sit, down, stay, place, or other command before losing control of your dog/s. Don't feel quite comfortable with this scenario? First try exposing your dog to the sounds of children playing, i.e. take them to the playground, ask them to "Look at that!" and point to a small child running or screaming or laughing, "yes", or click, and treat, as many times as necessary until your dog automatically looks at you for eye contact after looking at the children at play.
Another great conditioning exercise would be to purchase a baby doll, the more action packed, the better. So buy the doll that makes all the sounds that babies make. Keep it simple at first, strap the baby across your chest, and walk with the dogs, getting it used to something else being with them on the walk is paramount. Once they seem comfortable with this, begin putting the baby on the sofa, and asking them to "leave it" and "yes" and treat, or click, and treat as many times possible until they leave it on their own. You could also break out your stroller early, and start taking the "baby" on a walk with the dogs, this is a great exercise for you and the "baby" as well! As it will teach you how to feel comfortable walking the dog/s and pushing the stroller, so once you have the real baby, you can feel confident taking the dog AND the baby out for a walk together. Confidence is huge when walking these guys, as we all know they are so receptive to our energy. The more positive, confident energy we exude, the stronger of a leader we come across as! This is the whole point of conditioning, not only for the dogs, but for our own sense of confidence with the dog/s, and baby, living as one.
Don't hesitate to contact with any questions or concerns with these scenarios. I would be happy to bring over my props and help you condition your dog, or help you gain the confidence to take your pooch and baby on a walk together outside. Once my baby is born, I would be happy to come into your home and help you condition your dog to a real life baby, which will make these exercises even more efficient!
It's important to remember that our dogs are part of the family, so when friends and family ask, "What are you going to do with your dog/s?", you reply confidently with, "We are going to live as one big, happy family." And you can say that, and mean it, with confidence, if you take the time to prepare your dogs, and yourself, for your new baby. It's the least we can do now that the dog/s aren't the babies anymore, right?!